Can Someone Help Me to Understand the Use of Phrygian Dominant Scale in Jazz

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by doran.dragic, Nov 19, 2016.

  1. doran.dragic


    Jul 2, 2014
    Hello everyone,

    I'm a beginner at playing jazz and I'm trying to expand my soloing vocabulary. Right now I'm learning to play Footprints.
    I noticed there's a couple of different versions of the changes at the end of the tune, so I decided on
    Gbm7b5 E7 Em7b5 A7#5 as the changes I'll use.

    Trying to solo through the changes, I noticed E Mixolydian doesn't sound that well, even when the E chord is the dominant chord. Raising the #6 helped, but another thing I noticed is that playing the 5th mode of harmonic minor scale fits in great as well. Is there a certain reason why it sounds good in that context?

    Also, the other day I was watching this video of a guitar player playing All Blues (). If you skip to 1:40 you'll notice he's playing that same mode over the D7 and Eb7 chords. He also says that the melody suggests the correct scale to use in this case harmonic mode, but I'm not hearing that. Can somebody explain me this as well?

    Also, are there certain situations, where this mode can in general be applied?
    Thanks for the help
  2. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    Em7b5, A7#5 - Em, A is ii, V in D minor. You might try a D harmonic minor scale. (If you haven't noticed already, a lot of what's in standards seems to be ii, V.)

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  3. Carl Hillman

    Carl Hillman Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2010
    The general answer to your question is that the fifth mode of the harmonic minor scale is traditionally paired with a Dominant 7, b9, b13 chord.

    However, those four changes in the tune are pretty nebulous, and I think that's the way Wayne wanted them to be when it came to soloing over the tune. ( Peter Spitzer points out here: Peter Spitzer Music Blog: Those "Footprints" Changes )

    "Goodness" is truly in the ear of the hearer. I don't know that there necessarily has to be a functional harmonic reason underpinning why you like a sound.

    (Tastes vary. IMHO, I don't like the E7 there, because it isn't set up by the preceding chord and it doesn't resolve to the chord after. But, if you like it, run with it.)
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2016
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  4. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    It's worthwhile noting (and hearing) what was played on the original recording:
    (from an earlier thread) -

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  5. lurk


    Dec 2, 2009
    Yup, those chord colors get a little nebulous, but the Bass clearly is thinking f#/b/e/a
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  6. doran.dragic


    Jul 2, 2014
    Thank you for your input everyone. If anyone has more any more info on the use of phrygian dominant scale and other more known tunes where it is normally played over I'd be really glad.

    Thanks a lot.
  7. lurk


    Dec 2, 2009
    Basically, anytime you've got a Dom 7th chord that's static. By that I mean one that just sits there for a while, like in the blues, as opposed to an active one that pulls strongly to a resolution. The important thing, IMHO, is not to run the scale, who wants to hear that, but to extract melodies from the set of notes in the scale. Wes Montgomery is a great example. He pulls lots of wonderful little melodies from that scale.
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  8. I've always felt the scale chord thing is more useful if you are a saxophonist who can use the whole thing fast against a chord.

    Even in solos we play few enough notes to get more specific than a scale. So, I don't think it is the best question for bass players.
    Better questions are:
    What does a flat 2 sound like against x chord?
    What do I want to do harmonically?
    Do I want to alter the harmony?
    Do I want bring focus to a certain aspect already there?
    Simple math if we have a four note chord:
    3 tones left in the scale at hand, 5 not in the scale.

    Finding out what each of the 12 scale degrees do against the various chords is far more helpful - you can do this in one key and it doesn't take very long.

    For example, deciding you want a richer dissonance and adding a flat 2/9 to the situation is going to be more interesting than throwing scales at tunes and chords.
  9. doran.dragic


    Jul 2, 2014
    Great points, thank you both!
  10. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    I'm not sure "who" this guitarist is, but his using a G harmonic minor scale over a D7#9 (@1:40) is a very unusual choice, IMO. (AND, an even more unusual choice at the Eb7#9 chord in All Blues!).
    Over D7#9, the note "G natural" is not a consonant note, as the chord contains both F# and F natural, but NO G natural. (The G natural is in direct conflict with both the F and F# - they can't coexist in this chord, without creating GREAT unresolved/unwanted dissonance.) Also - the G harmonic minor scale is missing the F natural, (among other useful notes), a very necessary component of the D7#9 chord.
    Here is a better collection of notes that will fit nicely over/under the chord "D7 #9": IMO.
    D, Eb, F, F#,G#,A, Bb, C, (D).
    I'm not at all concerned with a "name" for this scale or collection of notes - my only concern is that they are consonant with the chord voicing being played in All Blues, (at the beginning of the turnaround.)
    FYI - I'm not at all a fan of names like "Phrygian Dominant", or "Modal Names" for scales in general, so, my response here may not be addressing your original question.
  11. gerry grable

    gerry grable

    Nov 9, 2010
  12. doran.dragic


    Jul 2, 2014
    Thank you for a very informative reply. I like the way you look at the choice of notes that one should apply over a cord when soloing. It makes a lot of sense and also answers my question. I do have another question however. How did you come to the notes you named?
    I can see that D, F#, A and C are all C7 notes and the F is the #9 extension.
    But where do Eb (b9?), G# (#11?) and Bb (b13?) come from, are these common extension notes by 7#9 chord?
  13. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    Hi d.d,
    Yes! You are correct - regarding the b9 - once a chord has a #9 specified, the b9 is "assumed", as the natural 9 does NOT mix well with the #9 (or b9).
    The G# - on most Dominant 7 chords, (NOT a Sus chord), the #11 mixes well as an extension. Same with the Bb (the b13, but I like to call it the +5...)
    A knowledge and study of (jazz?) Harmony and a piano, along with a couple of "ears" will open many doors and answer many questions.
    It sounds like you're knocking on the right doors!
    I would encourage you to explore Jazz piano voicings (there are many good books out there), to see and hear exactly what a pianist (or guitarist) might play when seeing chord symbols, and why it is so important as the bassist to understand your role in that harmony.
    Best of luck to you.
    Thanks for your time and interest.
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2016
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  14. doran.dragic


    Jul 2, 2014
    Thank you for another very informative reply. I will have to improve my ability to hear all these extensions. Right now playing over 7#9 chord, I can somewhat hear and use both #9 and b9, the rest not so much.

    I do have another question about All Blues though; should I approach both D7#9 and Eb#9 the same way? The reason I ask is that I was told that the Eb7#9 is actually a substitution for A7. Now I understand that you don't like to use the modal / scalar terminology, but for my easier understanding only - are the tones of mixolydian #11 mode (Eb, F, G, A, Bb, C, Db) acceptable on the Eb#9? I read on more than one occasion that this is a scales improvisers use a lot when soloing over a tritone substitution. Also playing a natural II doesn't sound good to me on the D7#9, but for some reason sounds OK to me on the Eb7#9 in this case. Is it possible, that I've played it "wrong" for so long that my head kind of accepted that sound?
  15. My homemade scale calculator tells me for D7#9:
    Mode III of Bb harmonic Major alias Phrygian b4 alias Shostakovich (7-tone) or
    D dominant diminished alias halftone-wholetone (8-tone) or
    D Spanish Phrygian (8-note).

    In general I try to avoid scales with several halftones following after the other. I think they are mixes of scales and used like that, switching from one to the other.
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  16. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    Yes! Good Observation - The Eb7#9 can be seen and heard as a tritone substitution of an A7 - HOWEVER- it is a direct substitution of "A7b9, 13" (not "A7#9).
    These are the notes of BOTH the Eb7#9 and A7b9,13, just starting on different places:
    Eb, E, Gb, G, A, Bb, C, Db Eb.
    A, Bb, C, Db, Eb, E, Gb, G, A.
    The bass note determines whether the chord is an Eb chord or an A chord. I will repeat that because it is important:
    The bass note determines whether the chord is an Eb chord or an A chord.
    The pianist (or guitarist) plays EXACTLY the same voicing (no ROOT, only the most important notes - starting with the 3rd/#9/7th) while the bass note can choose either the Eb or A as the root.
    On the original recording, the bassist chooses D - Eb as the root movement, but it would still be harmonically sound (see what I did there?!) if the root movement went D - A - D, instead of D - Eb- D.
    Also, Too - The Eb7#9 is the same "flavor" as the D7#9 - I wouldn't tell you that the F (the natural 9) is "Wrong", but I would encourage you to try and hear the b9/#9 on the Eb7 chord. Listen to the original (below) and see if you can pick out (sing?) some of the notes being played over the Eb7#9 by the soloists. (Spoiler Alert - Not a lot of F naturals, there.)
    Finally - this stuff ultimately makes more sense as "sound", instead of "words", IMO, (although 'Written&Thinkin' Theory' is a very valuable tool to have in your toolbox), so find a piano/pianist/guitarist to see, play and hear this stuff in "slow motion", up close.
    Hearing, understanding and playing "b9/#9"-ish vocabulary really separates the Men/Women from the Boys/Girls.
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2016
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  17. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    I'll chime in here. As a student, I find myself constantly approaching these questions at a piano, playing different voicings and then playing different notes against them to judge how I like those notes. What I consistently find, is that some notes are more "supportive" of the voicing and others are more "challenging". Some are EXTREMELY challenging, and of course, some are extremely supportive. I find myself trying to internalize which is which, and all of the shades in between. One thing that I have found that helps a lot, is to internalize a scale or sound-color, and then listen back to recordings to hear when it appears or doesn't.
    Ultimately, there's always an argument to be made for playing supportive notes of the chords, but, that's not necessarily what artists played, and IMO, ARTISTS knew the difference, craftsmen didn't.
    Don Kasper likes this.
  18. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    @Don Kasper, if the music is in G, a G-natural will make a fine choice as a passing tone between F/F# and A, and I'd think it would sound better than the G# you suggest. FWIW, I'd want to use an F-natural and not an F# just because of the voicing of the chord - the F# in the chord is enough F# for me.

  19. Using a natural G means using the Domnant Phrygian scale,
    using a G# means using Dominant Diminished.
    And the is no natural G or G# in the third mode of Bb harmonic major.
  20. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    Using a natural G means you're playing a V chord of G so it will sound OK, no?

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